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How to deal with emotional immaturity: ‘Slamming doors and making demands is a regular thing in our house’

Relationships: Those labouring under this cloud are unable to express emotions adequately and may alter their world view to safeguard themselves

“I still tiptoe past his door in the mornings, afraid to wake him before my morning coffee,” says Lisa, a mum of four, whose 33-year-old eldest son lives in the family home.

“We’re walking on eggshells until he goes to work and, when he gets home in the evening, I tend to stay out of his way. It makes for a difficult family life, especially when his siblings visit. He takes criticism to heart and seems to feel constantly judged by his brother and sisters who live with their partners.”

Lisa and her husband understand the frustrations of their son in the restrictive economic climate as he sleeps in his childhood bedroom, but they find he struggles to communicate his needs and strike a balance in all of his relationships when it comes to the natural give and take in both friendships and familial connections.

“It’s almost like he is unable to cope with the reality of his situation and takes it out on everyone else,” says Lisa, who feels the household has become increasingly disrupted over the years as a result. “He is definitely emotionally immature. He’s quick to cause a row, won’t talk to us when something is wrong, and can be very defensive.”

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An emotionally immature person is someone unable to express their emotions adequately and may alter how they view the world to protect themselves from complications so that they can better navigate life. This may mean they blame others for how things are working out and fail to take responsibility for their actions. Their emotions may escalate quickly and be disproportionate to the situation. An inability to manage their impulses can result in unsuitable actions or behaviours. Lying, bullying, or being reckless, along with childish behaviours are typical traits of an emotionally immature person which Lisa says are the norm for her eldest. “Slamming doors and making demands of us is a regular thing in our house,” she says.

Although emotional immaturity is associated with narcissistic personality disorder, it does not mean that the person is a narcissist. However, an emotionally immature person’s traits can complicate a relationship.

Research suggests that one of the main reasons emotional immaturities develop is a lack of nurturing as a child. “If [children] are neglected or there is trauma, this can have a profound effect such as closing down your emotional system,” says Séamus Sheedy, psychotherapist and chairman of the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. “This causes the individual to not grow up emotionally and often fear is at the bottom of it as well as a lack of love, care, and attention.”

Furthermore, unresolved mental health issues, psychological trauma, or a lack of self-awareness can play a part in how emotionally mature a person is. An emotionally immature person may develop into a self-centred narcissist, inept at managing conflict with the bonus of being unable to express their feelings “without restraint or a filter”, as Sheedy says. He also suggests that emotional immaturity can be detrimental to relationships as a person can struggle to handle emotions in a healthy way leading to conversations that are one-sided causing a big imbalance in the relationship.

“A person can do such things as talk over you when you have something to tell them,” he explains. “They often struggle to take responsibility for their mistakes, shifting the blame on to their partner. It can be difficult to address important issues with them as they redirect issues away from themselves and can easily become angry in response to an important issue. It can be very challenging to be in a relationship with them and sometimes we blame ourselves.”

In Lisa’s case, she says she has often worried that their parenting has encouraged his behaviour. “I sometimes think we made mistakes as he doesn’t seem to be the well-adjusted kid we thought he and his siblings were.”

“Being with or involved with an emotionally immature person can be challenging,” Sheedy reiterates. “It can even lead the person to question their own sense of self or revert to regressive behaviours. In more complex situations, the other person in the relationship may develop mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.”

Because of the complicated nature of emotional immaturity, it can be difficult to make things work in romantic relationships or maintain friendships. Even sibling connections can be thwarted as the relationship proves too difficult to manage.

“The anger and frustration [a person] may experience might make it harder for you to find a deeper connection with them. You may feel as if you’re ‘walking on eggshells’ in the relationship to avoid a potential trigger,” says Sheedy who also recognises that emotional immaturity can often bring about a sense of loneliness in any relationship. “Though the person is physically there, you may feel emotionally detached from them. It’s very common to feel confused, exhausted, and even drained as your feelings may be dismissed or ignored. Recognising that the difficulties experienced are affecting your relationship is the first step towards building a healthy connection.”

Conscious that their son can change, Lisa has taken strides to open up the conversation about how he interacts with those around him. “We’ve actually talked about his behaviour with him recently,” she says, “and he recognises the problems we’ve mentioned within himself. It might be the start of a change in how he is with people, but only time will tell.”

With a strong support system, a person can learn emotional maturity. In this way, they can become more accepting of the myriad emotions a person experiences, challenge the way they think, learn empathy, communicate well, and grow in their relationships outside of themselves and their own potentially confused needs.

“The first thing a person must do is accept that they have been affected by trauma from their past and then make meaningful connections with themselves and others,” says Sheedy. “You need to want to become more emotionally mature and be willing to work on it. Try speaking to a friend or family member. If that isn’t satisfactory, look for an accredited professional counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you identify your emotions, deal with the shame you may be feeling, create healthy boundaries, and deal with past experiences and memories which often shape how we interpret and feel about a present circumstance.”

Sheedy reinforces the notion that not everyone will change, but that others can alter their reactions and responses to the friend or partner who is actively making an effort to amend their behaviours. “In order to navigate emotional immunity, it is important to show empathy to the individual,” he says. “Practise active listening, challenge them to take responsibility for their actions, and communicate your needs and boundaries.”

It is talking through these fears and insecurities that can help a person become more self-aware about the effect their behaviour can have on others. As Sheedy says: “The key factor is to be willing to make the necessary changes.”

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